Americans have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance via healthcare.gov, the federal website launched under the Affordable Care Act where low and moderate income individuals and their families are getting government subsidies to help them buy coverage. But more than half of Americans, or 55 percent, still don't know when that deadline is, according to a new Bankrate.com survey released Monday.
The survey found:
About 1 in 4 Americans incorrectly think the deadline already passed on Jan. 1, 2014 while 11 percent wrongly think they have until Dec. 31, 2014 to sign up.
About 62 percent think the government will push the deadline to a later date.
Young adults, 18 to 29, are the most likely to think the government will push back the deadline.
"While the Obama Administration has changed many of the other Affordable Care Act deadlines, Americans should not assume that the March 31 deadline will be moved," said Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman.
Whiteman said one reason many Americans are not well-versed on the ACA deadline is because they are not impacted by the law. The vast majority of Americans either have health coverage through their job or through government programs like Medicare or Medicaid.
"Many people already have health insurance through work so they are not paying attention to any of this," Whiteman said.
Under the ACA's individual mandate, most Americans have to get coverage in 2014 or pay a penalty, which in the first year is $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is larger. An estimated 15 percent of Americans, including about 1.3 million New Jerseyans, are uninsured, and could get covered under the ACA.
Many healthcare experts in New Jersey contend efforts to get the word out about the ACA are drastically underfunded and inadequate. The administration of Gov. Chris Christie declined to create a state-run exchange where health insurers would sell policies, and as a result the state missed out on millions of dollars in federal funding that would have been used to publicize the program and help people sign up.
Whiteman said "We do think that so far there really hasn't been a big publicity push on the part of the Obama administration, at least it certainly doesn't seem that way and we've found that many people don't know about this March 31 deadline."
Christie did expand the state's Medicaid program under the ACA, and low income New Jersey residents have been enrolling in Medicaid and getting covered. Subsidies to buy coverage at healthcare.gov are available to those whose incomes are between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level; for a family of four, the subsidies phase out completely at an annual income of about $93,000.
Whiteman said the federal government has estimated that about 80 percent of those who have signed up for coverage so far under the ACA have received a federal subsidy.
Whiteman said it's worrisome that young people are not aware of the March 31 deadline because "Obamacare's success hinges on young, healthy Americans signing up, so if they continue to procrastinate past the deadline, it could cause insurance premiums to increase." The survey found that 43 percent of those aged 18 to 29 were aware of the deadline. "Young adults, who are the age group that is most likely to be uninsured, are also the group that is least informed about the deadline."
Those who miss the March 31 deadline will have to wait to get covered during the next open enrollment period that begins in October 2014. However, if the uninsured experience a major "life event" such as marriage in the interim, they will be able to sign up for subsidized coverage on healthcare.gov prior to the October 2014 open enrollment period.
The Bankrate.com survey found 36 percent of Americans said their health care spending is higher now than it was 12 months ago and 7 percent said it is lower.
Bankrate.com Health Insurance Pulse is a monthly survey that tracks how Americans are feeling about health care and their personal finances and is conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.